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Mental health amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound emotional toll on people around the world.

The loss of long-awaited opportunities has led to anger and frustration, and the uncertainty over the future is leading to gloom and anxiety.

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Amid quarantine and new—sometimes strange—living configurations, many are isolated and are feeling physically and socially distant from their loved ones.

The pandemic may be an “equalizer” in the sense that most people are affected by it—and the same is true for its impacts on mental health.

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But as with many of its aspects, different groups are differently impacted.

Those who have already been grappling with preexisting mental health issues are particularly vulnerable, given how “social distance” and loneliness are associated with depression.

Lest we forget, even before the pandemic, we had been faced with an epidemic of mental illness.

Those with chronic medical conditions will also be impacted, especially when access to care is disrupted.

People who test positive for COVID-19—or even those who are classified as probable cases—are also subject to mental stressors, not least of which is rising stigma and discrimination.

To cite just one deplorable example, the house of one family in Iloilo province was pelted with stones after the patriarch died of COVID-19 and other family members tested positive.

Health care workers are also on the receiving end of stigma and discrimination, on top of the pressures of being a frontliner against a deadly virus.

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Already, we are hearing our own colleagues in the medical profession express a range of emotions from fear and anxiety to grief and gloom.

This is consistent with reports from China about the “high risk of developing unfavorable mental health outcomes” among those in the frontlines.

Finally, we have those who face economic and occupational challenges, either because they have to work, or because they cannot find work. Compounding their financial burden is the mental and emotional burden of being unable to provide for one’s self and family.

Thankfully, efforts are being mounted by mental health organizations and advocates in the Philippines to help people cope with the pandemic.

Many of these groups have organized webinars and offered hotlines for those who need help, including, to name just a few: the Philippine Mental Health Association (0917-565-2036 or [email protected]), the Philippine Psychiatric Association (0918-942-4864 or [email protected]), and the National Center for Mental Health (0917-899-USAP or 7-989-USAP and @MentalHealthPH on Twitter).

The government would do well to support and sustain the above initiatives. Moreover, by providing accurate information, clear direction, and reassuring leadership, it can help soothe people’s anxieties regarding the pandemic.

Crucially, the government must ensure food and physical security, especially among poor and vulnerable communities.

There should also be national policies in place that address stigma and discrimination, similar to what we have in place for HIV. Commendably, LGUs like Davao City, Lipa, Manila, and Quezon City have taken the lead in this front.

Meanwhile, everyone can take part in the project of bridging “social distance” and promoting mental health, both in ourselves and others.

Mental wellness nowadays is really all about coping, which is individualized. There is no “one size fits all” way to cope, but we can all begin with acknowledging how we feel and communicating our needs, as well as listening to, and empathizing with, those of our family, friends, and people within our networks.

Another measure is choosing credible sources when getting pandemic-related news and updates, and being discerning with the “infodemic” upon us. If social media gets too toxic, leave and breathe.

While any meaningful activity can be rewarding, volunteering for a cause is one way to help others while contributing to one’s mental and emotional wellness.

Ultimately, as with all other aspects of the pandemic, our mental health will depend on our sense of solidarity and community.

Gia Sison is a medical doctor, mental health advocate, and host of G Talks at CNN Philippines.

Gideon Lasco is a physician, medical anthropologist, and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist.

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TAGS: coronavirus disease, coronavirus philippines, covid-19 philippines, health crisis, Mental Health, pandemic, Philippine Mental Health Association, Quarantine
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